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June 2005
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The Wired Life

Email is down.   I feel half-blind. 

This is a rare occurrence, which probably accounts for at least part of the reason it feels so frustrating.  In this increasingly wired world, I almost always have a highspeed connection at hand.  I was in a hotel awhile back and was having trouble getting it to work.  It took me awhile to remember that I could still dial-up.  It's been so long since I've even had to do that.  These days I feel put upon when a hotel doesn't have wireless.  Being tethered to an ethernet cable makes me feel unfairly restrained.

A few years ago, I went to New York for a weekend to see the Rothko retrospective.  We left on Friday, were coming back on Sunday, and I had a full schedule planned of music and museums.  There wasn't going to be time for so much as a peek at email, so I left the computer at home.  I walked through airport security and realized that the odd sensation I was feeling was due to not being able to remember the last time I'd boarded a plane without my laptop.  And it hasn't happened since.

Occasionally someone will cluck something disapproving to me about how this kind of behavior prevents one from "ever really getting away."  I wonder if they leave their cell phone behind when they travel.  Do they only vacation in places that have no televisions or radio? 

Conversely, some people find it odd, or even rude, that Lynn and I don't answer our home telephone.  Ever.  We use the answering machine to screen all of our calls.  Marian calls her mom several times a day, usually.  My mom calls on occasion.  When we hear their voices, we pick up.  Other than that, it's rare for a ringing telephone to be someone other than a solicitor or a wrong number.  Why should we feel compelled to interrupt whatever we're doing because the timing is convenient for someone else to choose that moment to try to bust into our home?

I prefer the control that email gives me.  When I'm travelling, it takes about an hour a day to keep up.  But I can choose what I respond to and when.  I like knowing that if I've been gone for several days, when I get back to the library there won't be any big surprises or a long list of things that I've got to tend to immediately because my absence has been holding other people up.  And I like being able to send notes to my mom about where I am and what I'm seeing.  I like knowing that wherever I am, I can join one of those rollicking conversations with the rest of the Pigs that crops up a few times a month.

When I first went to St. Louis, as the associate director of the library at the SLU Medical Center, there were three computers in the place.  There was an Apple IIe in the AV department that was used to generate a list of the videotapes in the collection.  There was another that nobody could think of a use for sitting under the circulation desk.  The director's secretary had an IBM XT that she used for correspondence.  One of my first tasks was to buy four computers that the reference librarians could use for doing online searches.  I spent six weeks getting bids and then writing up the justification for making such a purchase.  That was eighteen years ago.

When I try to remember what the day-to-day life was like, it feels claustrophobic.  There was an inflexibility to the workdays.  There was a sharp dividing line between worklife and homelife.  When I travelled, there was the nagging worry that there'd be some emergency at work that I wouldn't be able to deal with from a distance.

What email (and the rest of the wired life) gives me more than anything else is much more control over time and space.  That sharp distinction between worklife and homelife dissolved years ago.  I don't think I spend any more hours in a week focused on work stuff than somebody running a library like mine would've done thirty years ago, but I can spread those hours out now however I want.  Being able to spend a few hours on a Saturday morning, working just as I would in my office, except that I'm barefoot and in comfy clothes with music blasting, means that I can also take a Friday afternoon off, and go to a favorite cafe to sip a glass of wine and read a novel for a couple of hours.  It gives me a freedom that was, literally, unimaginable a few decades ago.

Most mornings, I come up to my study with a cup of coffee in my hand, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes.  I look at email first thing.  Maybe there'll be a message from Bruce -- he's just getting ready for lunch in London when I'm first getting up.  Maybe there'll be a comment on one of my blog entries that somebody put in late the night before.  Undoubtedly there'll be a bunch of spam that I have to clear out.  I spend a minute or two with it, doublecheck my calendar to start to get a sense of the shape of the day, then push aside the computer and pick up my fountain pen and journal.  I still start my day with paper and ink, but email plugs me into the wider world that I'm a part of.

Except for today.

Old vs New

I agree with much of what Rochelle says about Wikipedia, but I’m troubled by the way that she mischaracterizes the “old way” for rhetorical effect. She says the “basic principle” she’s gleaned is that “for a source to be creditable, we want it to pass through the hands of a third-party, for-profit company.”  She throws a bone or two to objectivity – “Not to say there isn’t some validity to the old rules…” But it’s no more than a gloss. The “old rules” are run by the “Old Boys” and pretty soon she’s mixed it all down to “theirs” (Encyclopedia Brittanica) and “ours” (Wikipedia). “In the traditional world… we want to know if the University of Smart Folks has endorsed this… we want to see the Mensa membership cards…” Nice dripping sarcasm there, but not much substance. The rhetoric is useful only if you’re eager to divide things up neatly into “us” and “them”.

The reality is far muddier. In the “old world” reputable companies (many of them not-for-profit – think “university presses”) go to elaborate lengths to try to assure accuracy.  Armies of fact-checkers and legions of editors review textbooks and reference works. To suggest that reference works are just thrown together by an editor and accepted because they’re written by “the Old Boys” is a caricature that bears little useful resemblance to the work that actually goes into preparing traditional reference works. Are some publishers better than others? Of course. Do errors creep through? Of course. Is there fraud, deceit, sloppiness and venality at play, right alongside excellence, dedication and sheer brilliance? Of course -- we're dealing with human beings, aren’t we?

 She’s better when she goes on to say that “Wikipedia is the best example we have of pure peer review.” If one has a sufficient critical mass of participants, it seems to me that the likelihood of being truly self-correcting is high.  There’s still no guarantee that it’s going to be error-free, but a more open and transparent review process is surely an improvement (as many of the Old Boys have argued for years).  Well-designed wikis can resolve many of the limitations of the traditional print-bound review processes.

 She ends her piece with a statement that I wholeheartedly agree with: “We just have to give people the tools to think critically, to ask questions of the sources that we help them find.” But this isn’t a new principle. This is librarianship as I’ve been practicing it for twenty years. I was trained to approach all reference works, all sources, with a high degree of scepticism, and never to accept the authority of a source uncritically.

Nonetheless, I do not think she is mistaken when she suggests that too many of our colleagues are like “the 19th century matrons who tell people what’s good for them and keep the stuff that will rot their brains out of the library…”  But this isn’t about the "old way” and the “new way”. It shouldn’t be “us” and “them,” “theirs” and “ours” – it’s the ever-evolving, messy struggle towards better tools and better ways of developing knowledge. The great librarians of the past century have approached their work with exactly the kind of critical passion that Rochelle exemplifies, but they've had to work right alongside those who are just looking for their comfort zone.  Wikipedia isn't going to change that fact of human nature.

 Let me be very clear: I think that wikis have the potential to substantially transform the way we produce reference tools, and I’m personally much more likely to consult Wikipedia than a traditional encyclopedia these days. But, despite Rochelle's exhortations, I see too many eager librarians uncritically embracing Wikipedia and other technological advances as panaceas, and they are betraying their professional principles every bit as much as those who never thought to question the authority of an Encyclopedia Brittanica article.









An email yesterday from Evelyn Shaevel at headquarters alerts me to who the other candidates for MLA Board of Directors will be this year.   It's a good group.  I'd vote for any of us.

It's taken me quite awhile to come around to being willing to run for the Board.  It's not necessarily the kind of activity that I enjoy for its own sake, and, particularly during my first years at Lister Hill Library, I was very concerned about the commitment of time and energy.  I didn't want to take something on if I wasn't sure I could give it the attention it would require for me to do it well.  But in the intervening years, I've seen Lynn go through a term on the Board, and Nancy is now starting her third year, so I have a much better sense of what that commitment really is and (particularly after five years as JMLA editor) it seems pretty manageable.

And there is a certain sense of obligation.  MLA has been incredibly important to me.  I went to my first annual meeting in Denver in 1984, when I was an NLM Associate, and I haven't missed a meeting since.  In those early years, it was usually my only travel experience of the year and, for many years, was the closest that I came to taking a vacation.   It remains one of my major milestones each year -- like the Lakota winter counts, marking time according to the most singular event of a season,  my years are marked by the memories of specific annual meetings.  "The year I took Lynn's hair-bow at Excalibur in Chicago," for example, setting me on the path that led to our wedding, during the welcome reception of the Midcontinental Chapter annual meeting in Kansas City some twenty-eight months later.

I'm thinking about all of this in relation to a post that Marcus put up last week about his experiences with MLA.  I'm not surprised by his comment that "lots of young librarians feel MLA is inhospitable."  I remember my own early years.  Even with the advantage of having coming to my first meeting as an NLM Associate, which provided me with a certain degree of entree, I spent many uncomfortable hours by myself, not quite knowing how to connect, or how to get involved; feeling, when I went into a section meeting for example, that everybody else there seemed to know each other and that I was definitely an outsider.   It never occurred to me, however, to interpret that as the organization being inhospitable.  As a (nearly pathologically) shy guy, the world has always seemed inhospitable to me and I am acutely uncomfortable in all new situations.  In fact, given my low expectations, I suppose, MLA has always seemed to me to be particularly warm and welcoming.  It still took me five or six years of annual meetings before I started to feel comfortable.

I am somewhat more annoyed at the people who feel that MLA is an "unresponsive" organization.  MLA is a volunteer organization.   Headquarters staff can facilitate the work of the association, but if anything substantive is going to get done, it is directly measured by the amount of time and energy that individual librarians volunteer.  This is an inherently inefficient system and there is no question that it limits our effectiveness.  But if one takes the time for a careful look at the match between available resources and actual accomplishments, I think the what the association actually gets done is pretty stunning.

Not that this will ever satisfy the grumblers.   There will always be plenty of people happy to complain about what MLA "should do" and to fuss about its ineffectiveness.  Every volunteer organization suffers from this.  But since the complainers rarely have a concrete, constructive suggestion to offer for improvement, they can safely be ignored.

Maybe the difference between their attitude and mine is that I've never thought that the association ought to be doing things for me.   I've invested an awful lot of time into association activities over the past two decades, and have always felt that I got more back than I put in.  Hence the feeling of obligation at being asked to run for the Board.  MLA has provided me with a structure to connect to my profession, to learn, to engage, to meet people, to have a good time with people of similar interests.  MLA has provided me the opportunity to grow professionally and as a person -- taking advantage of that is up to me.


Democracy and Populism

A lengthy excerpt from John Lukacs' recent book, Democracy and Populism, in the April Harper's gives one of the most striking analyses of the current political climate that I've seen.  He uses words precisely, a talent that is unfortunately quite rare in most of the political chatter that I read.  He recognizes that we are in an age where the unreflective genuflection to "majority rule" and the glib use of the word "democracy" by "colorless presidents such as George W. Bush," presents real dangers to the kind of community envisioned by the founding fathers.

Is democracy the rule of the people or, more precisely, rule by the people?  No, it is rule in the name of the people, which is far more complicated.  In its predominant sense democracy is the rule of the majority, but here liberalism must enter. ... Majority rule must be tempered by legal assurances of the rights of minorities, and of individual men and women.  And when this temperance is weak, or unenforced, or unpopular, then democracy is nothing more than populism.  More precisely, it is nationalist populism.

This is a sentiment that I've long believed, although I've rarely seen it stated so concisely.  It underlies much of the fury that people feel toward the federal courts, and the resentment so many legislators feel at their inability to have their way.  A truly "democratic" system (in the way the word is understood by most legislators and most Americans) would have no need for those courts, because the law would simply be whatever the majority wants it to be on any given day.  The system that the founders designed, however, is carefully crafted to guard against the dangers of populism.  Lukacs points out that,

For much of the nineteenth century, democracy was feared by both liberals and conservatives.  Serious thinkers from both camps spoke against the principle of popular sovreignty, and against what Tocqueville called "the tyranny of the majority."  Those who did not reject democracy entirely tried their best to circumscribe it.  They were aware that liberty and equality are not identical, that their aspirations are not necessarily parallel and indeed often antithetical, and that to insist on one at the expense of the other could be disastrous.

But my favorite bit from this excerpt is his description of the difference between "patriotism" and "nationalism".  I have never seen this expressed anywhere before, but it seems to so clearly clarify why my deep love for my country seems so often at odds with the chest-beaters and flag-wavers:

When... Samuel Johnson uttered his famous dictum that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," he meant nationalism, but that word did not yet exist. ...

Patriotism is defensive, nationalism is aggressive.  Patriotism is the love of a particular land with its particular traditions; nationalism is the love of something less tangible, of the myth of a "people," and is often a political and ideological substitute for religion.  Patriotism is old-fashioned...; nationalism is modern and populist.  A patriot is not necessarily a conservative; he may even be a liberal of sorts.  In the twentieth century, a nationalist could hardly be liberal.

Lukacs, of course, is using the words "conservative" and "liberal" in the old-fashioned way (as when we used to talk about the virtues of a "liberal education").    He's trying to address something deeper and more historical that lies beneath the current fury of political debate.  I've always believed that the bedrock of the American experiment is that it is a system designed to protect the weak and defenceless; those that hold unpopular opinions and those that can easily find themselves the targets of the fury of the angry and frightened mob.  In these days of increasing intolerance on the part of the fearful, Lukacs helps to describe what it is that we are at risk of losing.

Elevating the Debate

Marcus is going to make an attempt to "elevate online political debate".  A noble endeavor, and I hope he gets some interesting and worthwhile contributions.  I'm not hugely optimistic, however.  He suggests that the "success" of The New Republic is an indication that "people really do appreciate thoughtful political writing."  But in reality, for most of its 90 years, TNR has hung by a thread, and its miniscule circulation is evidence that those appreciative people are rather few in number.

On the other hand, this is not a new phenomenon.  Everytime I hear somebody fretting about the coarsening of political discourse, I want to ask them when exactly it is that they think it was polite and genteel.   The cartoons of Thomas Nast or H. Daumier are far rougher than anything that appears in today's papers.  One of my favorite books of all time is American Aurora, which tells the story of the first great political newspaper in this country.  The battles between the partisans of Jefferson and those of Adams make the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" look like pikers.  And while senators may from time to time make intemperate comments, they haven't gone wailing on each other with walking sticks in a while. 

Having spent some ten months now trolling about the blogosphere, my observation is that many of the people taking the time to maintain blogs, regardless of their partisan passions, actually do try to be thoughtful and reasonable -- even when they're unwilling to give any ground to the enemy.  It's in the comments that the ignorant ranting and name-calling tends to take place.  Blog technology invites that kind of shoot from the hip response, and takes what used to be restricted to the coffeehouses and taverns onto the internet.  That might make it more visible, but I don't think it necessarily makes it more prevalent.

My favorite part of Marcus's proposal is the 1,000 word minimum.  True, he'll get some flabby writing, but it does increase the chances that he'll get some pieces that try for sustained discourse.  My biggest frustration with internet communication has been that it encourages people to make short, passionate statements of belief, rather than taking the time to build a persuasive argument.  (This has been very much the case, for example, with most of the online chatter about open access.)

I've been reading Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy over the last few months.  Last night I read the chapter on Descartes, the first great modern philosopher.  Among his many other interests, Descartes was concerned with knowledge -- how do we know things?  What does it mean to say that I know something?  The distinction between knowledge and belief is one that very few people pay attention to.  Just look at the debate between those who support the theory of evolution and those who want it banned from the classrooms.  There was a story on NPR last week commemorating the Scopes trial.  A young woman from a high school in Maryland came on, passionately explaining that she knew that evolution was wrong.  First of all, it's just a theory, right?  So it's not a fact.  And, more importantly, she holds the truth of Jesus Christ in her heart.  There's no reason to think the young woman is unintelligent.  She was very articulate, and clearly very frustrated with the interviewer at having to explain something that was so obvious to her.  She can't quite understand why it isn't obvious to everybody.  She has absolutely no understanding of the difference between knowledge and belief.

AE Housman said it best:  "A moment's thought would have shown him.  But a moment is a long time, and thought is a painful process."  I hope that Marcus's call encourages some people to take the time, and do the hard work.


I'm amused that Sunday's note on my vacation has generated several comments looking for career advice, most recently from Sarah, who asks, "As a new grad,... how does one get administrative experience?"  This speaks to one of the most common dilemmas facing those who are trying to move up into their first supervisory position -- "Every job ad seems to want somebody who already has supervisory experience!  How am I going to get any in the first place?"  No question that this is a tough hurdle to overcome.

Several years ago, when MLA's Medical School Libraries Section was transmogrifying into the Leadership and Management Section, one of the questions we were faced with (I was chair of the section at the time) was, aren't you just setting up a section for directors or director wannabes, and is that something we really need?  So we went to great lengths to point out that leadership and management skills are necessary if one is going to be successful in any professional position, from entry level across the board.  I think the section has done a pretty good job at getting that point across, and directing its activities to librarians at every stage of their careers.

In my reply to Bob Riley's comment, I mentioned the importance of people skills and good communication skills.  I consider these to be the bedrock of the successful administrator, and they are qualities that an entry-level librarian can demonstrate from the first day on the job.  Too many times over the years I have found myself in conversation with someone who explains that they're seeking some higher management job because then they'll be able to get people to do things the way they want them done.  Using the unearned authority of one's position to command people isn't leadership, and if you are not successful in effectively motivating your peers, you are not going to be very successful just by becoming their boss.

Most organizations these days try (with more or less success, I suppose) to foster a team approach, and there will be ample opportunities for a new librarian to demonstrate their leadership and administrative abilities.  How effective are you as a member of a team?  Can you handle disagreements in a positive, straightforward, but nonconfrontational manner?  Are you willing to take on new projects that may require you to move outside your comfort zone?  How effective are you at sharing credit and celebrating the successes of your colleagues?  Do you get your projects in on time, or ahead of time?  Do you alert your supervisor and your team members of potential delays well ahead of the time that they become critical?  There will come a time, before too long, when you're no longer the newest member of the department -- how do you relate to the person who comes in after you?  What do you do to share your experience and expertise with them to help them be successful?  Do you project a positive and enthusiastic attitude?

Most importantly, do you carry yourself in such a way that you are recognized as a person of integrity?  Do your colleagues see you as someone that they can trust, as someone who lives the values and ethics of our profession?

If you can exemplify these qualities, from your first day on the job, you will find yourself being given more responsibility over time.  You will find yourself being asked to manage more projects, to take the lead role in new initiatives.  When it comes time to apply for that next position, this will give you the track record that you can stand on, and that will lead your references to give you the kinds of recommendations that may persuade potential employers that you're ready for a supervisory position.   It won't always -- don't kid yourself.   You'll need a healthy tolerance for disappointment.  Success is not guaranteed, and there are plenty of people who aspire to a director's job who never get there.    But the basic qualities that make good directors are the same ones that make good entry-level librarians, and you should be working at improving yourself in those areas every single day. 

And that means now, and for the rest of your life.

What He Said...

I should know better than to watch television news, particularly when I know something about the issue at hand.  From time to time, however, I'll flick on CNN when I'm in the kitchen (although I do that much less frequently now since Lynn gave me those great Bose iPod speakers), and  I had it on last night, as I was cleaning up, when Lou Dobbs' show came on.  He said that he'd be talking with David Gergen about the Rove thing.  Gergen sometimes has insightful things to say, and I'd been curious about how the story was unfolding during the day, so I decided to watch.

Dobbs' did a news segment on the press briefing first, and then later in the half hour brought Gergen on.  I knew it was going to be bad when, in overly dramatic tones, he introduced the first report by saying that at the press briefing, reporters hammered away at McClellan, wanting to know if Rove was the source of the leak.  I'd read the transcript of the briefing earlier in the day, and that's not actually what the reporters asked about.   They wanted to know if the White House stood by their earlier statements that they would fire anyone who had been involved in the leak.  I was already disheartened.  Dobbs' introduced the Gergen segment the same way, so he had already completely mischaracterized what actually happened.  Then Gergen stuck close to the script, focusing on whether or not Rove had broken any laws, and pointing out the fact that the Newsweek story doesn't give enough information to determine that.  Dobbs did try to push Gergen on the issue of political fallout, but he was pretty good at avoiding any substantive comments on that.  So I went to bed with renewed disgust for television news.

The briefing itself was pretty damned fascinating however, and I remain curious as to how the White House is going to finesse this.  The "can't comment on an ongoing investigation" strategy gives them a little bit of breathing room while they try to figure out what to do, but it also leads to hilarious exchanges like:

Q:  Does the President continue to have confidence in Mr. Rove?

A:  Again, all these questions are coming up in the context of an ongoing criminal investigation...

Q:  So you're not going to respond as to whether or not the President has confidence in his Deputy Chief of Staff?

A:  Carl, you're asking this question in the context of an ongoing investigation.  And I would not read anything other into it than I'm simply not going to comment on an ongoing...

I guess I missed the part where the grand jury is investigating whether or not the President has confidence in his staff.

My favorite exchange though, comes just a little later:

Q:  Who is Karl Rove as it relates to this administration?

A: Do you have questions on another topic?

Q:  No, no, no, no.  Who is Karl Rove as it relates to this current administration?

A:  I appreciate the question April.  I think I've responded.

A perfectly splended representation of Frankfurt's theory of Bullshit.

What is now quite clear is that the White House has, at best, engaged in some pretty fancy verbal gymnastics in order to say things that might be technically true, but are clearly designed to mislead.    This may be the time when they prove to have been too clever by half.

Entertaining as all this is, it doesn't make much difference in the long run, of course.  Whether Rove is officially in the White House or not, he'll continue to have Bush's ear.  And W himself will surely continue along his resolute path to glory.


So what was it like?

On the last day of June, I wrote a 2500 word essay that I'm pretty pleased with.  It took six and a half hours of very intense work -- I've never done that in just one day.   It'll show up as my editorial in the October issue of the Journal of the Medical Library Association.  I sent it off to Susan and drove to Jake's bookshop to split a bottle of wine, and talk about books and writing and bookselling and reading and the great grandeur of the simple and amazing lives we lead.  He showed me the memory  book he'd been given for his 70th birthday party, the handwritten notes from Kathryn Tucker Windham and John T. Edge; the elegantly engraved note from Rick Bragg; the slightly pornographic email from Pat Conroy and the mash note from Fanny Flagg; dozens of Southern writers paying homage to the maniac bookman.  I told him that I was in awe of his ability to pull the wool over the eyes of so many fine writers.  He agreed that it was baffling.

On the first of July, I finished an issue of Foreign Affairs, and read several chapters of Russell's History.  Marian & Josephine came over; I grilled hamburgers and we watched Sideways, which disappointed all of us.  Fine acting, some interesting and well done scenes, a few well-written lines, but a minor effort at best.  Is this really the best that Hollywood can do with a serious movie?  Depressing, if that's the case.

On Saturday, there's more reading.  More of Russell, and then into Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, which I was quickly persuaded is a must read for a yankee living in the Southern Court.    It was Live8 day and I was very impressed with the quality of streaming video that I got on my laptop, so intermittent with reading I see quite a few performances -- R.E.M. and Pink Floyd being the most memorable.  The movie that evening is The Aviator.  Better.  Lynn can't quite get past the fact that DiCaprio just looks too young for the role (although he acts marvelously).  But Cate is a fabulous Kate, and overall the movie is a good time.

Sunday continues in the same fashion.  I'm alternating across RJYH, the New York Review and Russell.  I run some errands, play some guitar.  Marian & Josie are back and The Wizard of Oz is on, uninterrupted.  After that, we watch Three Men and a Baby which L & M are very eager for me to see, for obvious reasons.  I'll admit to being charmed, and seeing bits of myself in each of the principals.

By Monday, I'm deep in the vacation groove.  I play with Josephine while LMF smokes ribs for dinner.  Finish up RJYH (and more essays and Russell chapters) and go straight on to Dylan's Chronicles

On Tuesday, Lynn goes back to work, so I've got the place to myself, absorbed in reading.  Chronicles is even better than I'd been led to believe from the reviews.  I'm amazed that a guy who has spent his whole life shapeshifting and hiding, seems to have decided to tell straight stories as true as he can.  And I'm astonished at his command of narrative -- the way he can move from a crisply decribed scene, full of significant detail, to an impressionistic tale and back again...  I want to go back and diagram these chapters, just so I can follow the movement...  (I won't, of course)...

Late afternoon, I pack the guitar in the trunk and head to the Bare Hands Gallery where there is a fine jazz quartet playing nothing but Monk and Mingus tunes.  Maybe thirty people come through over the course of the two sets.  They seem to feel it's a success.  I'm pretty impressed, particularly with their rendition of Mingus's "Pithecanthropus" and the Latin-rhythmed version of Monk's "Green Chimneys".

After dinner at Los Angeles, I make my way to Marty's for the open mike.  Lots of friends and acquaintances.  Good music, mostly.  I go on at midnite and, as always, my set is too short, but I'm pleased with the way I play -- the response is good.  When the open mike closes down, I take my usual position with guitar on a bar stool, and play until 3:30 in the morning while the crowd flows through.

I wake up earlier than I'd've thought on Wednesday -- 8:00, and get out for a walk in the steaming heat.  I fix a big breakfast of eggs and fried potatos and settle back in to read.  Continue with Chronicles (and I'm up to the Aquinas chapter in Russell's History).    There's a Louis Armstrong bio on American Masters, so we watch that before I finish the evening with some U2 on DVD.

By  Thursday, I'm acutely aware that I'm more than halfway through the reading vacation.  Finish Chronicles and it's one of those books you want to immediately go back to the beginning of -- read it again to pick up all those bits you missed.  But I don't.  I go for On Bullshit and after that, Kinky Friedman's latest,  Texas Hold 'Em, seems just right. Kinky makes me feel good about the world I'm living in -- something to be ornery about, and enjoy it.  The movie that night is Ray and we agree that Jamie Foxx won that Oscar fair and square.

Friday is my last day home alone, so I take the opportunity to watch Kill Bill 1 -- one of those movies that I'm curious about but that LMF would never, ever want to see.  I finish Kinky's book and move on to Occidentalism.  The horrors in London yesterday make it an obvious choice.  Would that my President would see some reason to try to understand where the hatred comes from.  But his mind is not clouded by any such questions.  I guess that's why we keep electing him.

And so it seems quite appropriate that we watch Fog of War that evening.  And agree that, finally, we've seen something that has more than earned its Oscars.  A wonder of a movie -- it ought to be required in every high school -- and certainly in every one of our military academies. 

Then it's Saturday and I start to remember that I have a day job.  I clean up my study and spend some time catching up with email.  Nothing too major to deal with, but I'm going to have to hit the ground running on Monday.  While Lynn is out gardening, I watch Kill Bill 2Now  I get it!  I'd been mildly amused and perplexed at 1.  But it comes together so wonderfully in 2.  The violence is not to my taste, but I can deal with it in context.   And of course, given my current circumstance, I love that fact that it all turns on the dramatic change that happens when a woman becomes a mother.

I finish Occidentalism.  I'm running out of reading time.  What do I choose next?  Lynanne went to the trouble of getting John J. Nance to autograph that copy of Fire Flight.  If I don't read it now, when will I?  By the third page, I know what I'm in for -- fast paced, rugged action, stereotyped characters, but a big heart and a clear message.  I can dig this.  I'm just not expecting any fine sentences.

Sunday is hurricane day, and Marian brings Josie over to ride it out.  I decide to grill steaks.  M&L think it is very amusing that I'm going to grill in the middle of a hurricane.  I'm offended by their amusement.  A) We're not in a hurricane -- we're in a mild tropical storm.  B) Our little front stoop is protected from the winds and I can cook there just as well as I can on my stove top.

I finish Fire Flight by the middle of the afternoon, by which time we know that Dennis has been far less severe than feared.  So we're all in a pretty fine mood by the time the steaks come off the grill.  We call Bispo, who is staying with his son Jonathon in Atlanta.  The relief in his voice bouys us all up further.  They'll head down to the Gulf tomorrow or the next day to assess damage, but they're not expecting much.  They'll be ready for us when we head down in two weeks.

I haven't finished Russell's history. The books on my shelves that I didn't choose are howling at me in their disappointment.   But the good stuff outweighs...  I've spent a week in the company of brilliant and powerful human beings -- musicians, philosophers, poets, artists of all stripes and kinds...  Finishing up with a hurricane seems just about right...


New books about Alabama football tumble out of the chute on about a weekly basis around here -- they're part of the local color.  When St. John's book first started getting bruited about, I didn't pay any more attention to it than to any of the others.  Jake did a signing for him, but knows me better than to even suggest that I might want to stop by.  I was vaguely aware that it was selling well.

Then I heard a lengthy review of it on an NPR show one day while driving to Tuscaloosa.  The reviewer (from New York) said that she'd approached it with some hesitation, since she's not by any means a fan, but that it turned out to be quite marvelous -- perhaps even more essential reading for the non-fan trying to understand the phenomenon than for the fan who's wanting another stopgap to slake their passion while they wait for the next game to start. 

It seems likely that I'll be spending the rest of my life here in the heart of college football fanaticism.  And, as I've discovered in the last couple of years in regard to Blazer Basketball, I'm not entirely immune to the development of an inner fan myself.  What I gleaned from the NPR review is that St. John went into this from a desire to better understand his own fan nature -- why do we care who wins and loses?  Why do we care so much that we become "fans"?  Maybe I oughta read this one after all.

When we stopped at Square Books on our winding way back from San Antonio, I came across a copy and decided it was time, so I picked it up (along with a Kinky Friedman collection, a new edition of Ezra Pound's Pisan Cantos, and the latest Jim Harrison novel).  Now I'm in the middle of a ten-day reading vacation, and finished it up yesterday.

St. John is a fine writer and has many marvelous stories to tell.  He's got a generous spirit, and doesn't hesitate to poke at his own fanaticism as he tries to understand it.  He's got a great ear for the Alabama accent, and transcribes just enough of it to get the flavor across without impeding the flow of the page.   He brings in a bit of  erudition and history to ground the book but never lets that get in the way of the fun.  I had a great time with it and I suppose that now I have a better appreciation for the depth and range of football fanaticism -- maybe I won't look down on it quite as much as I might have in the past.  That's a good thing as long as I'm living here.  So I'm grateful to St. John for writing it, and I wish him (and his team) every success -- I still don't expect to be going to any games any time soon, though.